We last heard music from Joel. (aka MaG) on his 2013 release (via RCRDLBL) Freedom, a soulful slice of American hip-hop. He didn’t go silent between then and now – those who follow him on Twitter know that Joel is a poet and a non-stop thinker, with an eye toward social progress and absolutely no patience for bullshit.
It’s no surprise to find that same spirit in the music he’s been working on. songs for charles is an independent release dropped just last month, and it kicks off with a short audio clip from Jay Z in the studio, taken from the film Fade To Black. This track, titled “what Hov said…(intro),” captures Jay discussing young rappers coming up; artists who believe they have to write about things they don’t feel and don’t know. He tells the cameraman to put the lens on him before saying, “See what y’all did to rappers? They scared to be theyself.”
Being true to himself, then, serves as Joel.’s mission here. “I can’t speak for no one else / but I’m gonna keep on being myself,” goes one of the refrains on the first song, “creston and 188th.” What follows is a personal catharsis. The next eight songs are all at least rooted in the past, even while facing the present. He looks back on his upbringing, his family, lessons learned and carried forward. “We was young / we was reckless,” he says, in the frank and unsentimental “hash browns.” The chilled out, hypnotic loop of the song keeps the mood static and, as much as the lyric, creates a vivid atmosphere, if not an especially warm one. It actually feels like a carefully constructed sound collage, pieced together from ‘70s-‘80s AM radio dials, video games, cassettes rewinding…the sounds of a childhood, running in the background.
“new, new york” brings us into the present, or at least the very recent past. But each track here, just like real life, builds on what came before. That’s why, even though this is an eight-song collection (nine tracks), I take songs for charles as a real album. It’s not a mixtape, nor a collection of singles. It’s a thematic, narrative flow. And, like a lot of Joel.’s work, it’s densely filled with imagery and wordplay, and almost has the feel of a stage play. With only a few listens so far, I have not absorbed every nuance, but I look forward to trying.
“better late than never (intermission)” is a dreamy flight, with a backing that sounds like recent Radiohead; droning chords bracing syncopated, jazz drums. The lyric is equal parts past, present, and future, and how they are helplessly intertwined, with a hook that declares, “I’d rather die than let go of one of my dreams / one foot forward, all I gotta do is proceed…It’s never too late to dream.” Hope continues to be a central theme here – aspirations for a better life, one that’s more fulfilling, one that is free from the troubled past, and one where glory is attained on no one else’s terms but your own.
Certainly Joel. knows there’s no complete escape from what came before. But songs for charles is at least an attempt at exorcism. Facing pain in stark terms, he describes a present in which personal reconciliation is already under way, and this music – in all its expressive, subtle complexity – is the conduit.
Remember when Rutgers University offered a class on the theology of Bruce Springsteen? That was pretty wild, right? Well now the university that brought you insight into the Boss is giving interested students the chance to dissect “American race, gender and sexual politics” through Beyoncé’s music and unfolding career.
“This isn’t a course about Beyoncé’s political engagement or how many times she performed during President Obama‘s inauguration weekend,” explains Kevin Allred, the Ph.D student who will be teaching the class. The course will take a look at music videos, lyrics, and the strategy behind Beyoncé’s portrayal of her music. “It’s important to shift students away from simply being consumers of media toward thinking more critically about what they’re engaging on a regular basis.” Allred said.
In what seems to be a new trend, the school will also offer a course for Jay-Z fanatics titled, “The Sociology of Hip-Hop: The Theodicy of Jay-Z.”
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I feel like I might still be watching the Grammys. Is it still on? I can no longer distinguish the Grammys from reality. It was so long that the much-hyped finale, featuring Dave Grohl, Queens of the Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails, and Fleetwood Mac‘s Lindsey Buckingham, was like a minute in when the producers lowered the curtain in the form of promo ads for Delta and Hilton before running the credits and then just cutting out entirely. That was ridiculous, especially for those of us who hung in, thinking, ‘well, at least there’s still the finale to see.’
Do you know how many awards they give out during the telecast? I think it was fewer than 10. And it took them just under four hours to do it. YOU ARE OVERBOOKING, GRAMMYS.
There were a lot of performances, but the standouts alone would have sufficed. For my money, they were:
1. Daft Punk with Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers, and Stevie Wonder, “Get Lucky.” In addition to the quality performance (Stevie Wonder should guest on all songs by all artists from now on), they had easily the best stage set in, I believe, Grammy history. It was a sick-looking ’70s-era recording studio, in which the robot duo appeared from behind the control room glass. Inspired.
2. Imagine Dragons with Kendrick Lamar, “MADD City/Radioactive.” It’s easy to imagine dragons while listening to this band, cause you’re usually asleep and dreaming 20 seconds in. But with Kendrick Lamar to fire things up, this was a blistering co-performance.
3. Beyonce with Jay Z, “Drunk In Love.” No surprise here, this was a solid show-opener.
4. Sara Bareilles and Carole King, “Beautiful/Brave.” With a simple dueling piano setup, these two harmonized beautifully on a mashup of their two songs. Carole King continues to prove that she’s still a musical force, after over 50 years in the business.
Other: Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr reunited on a new Macca song “Queenie Eye,” which is hardly the best song on his new album. Ringo played drums alongside Paul’s (amazing) drummer Abe Laboriel, so it was really more of a photo-op than anything else. The way it’s been hyped, you’d think these guys haven’t played live together since 1970, but they have performed together several times over the years. Ringo also performed his ’70s hit “Photograph” (a nice plug for his new photobook), befuddling teenagers everywhere.
Kacey Musgraves performed her hit “Follow Your Arrow” as though she were at the Grand Ole Opry circa 1983, complete with light-up boots and shirts and neon cacti. I thought it was actually kind of a cool throwback, considering what popular country music has become. To wit, she beat Taylor Swift, who hasn’t actually released a country album since she was like 15, for Country Album of the Year.
Gary Clark Jr. and Keith Urban – this was nothing special musically, except that they are both great guitarists and each injected some much needed, old fashioned guitar soloing into the proceedings.
See the full list of winners below.
I imagine that there’s a certain feeling of flattery in being named one of the most illegally downloaded artists of the year. Musicmetric, which analyzes data from Bit Torrent, has revealed that at over five million downloads each, Bruno Mars and Rihanna earned the top spots in this category, while Justin Timberlake, Daft Punk, and Flo Rida rounded out the top five. Also in the top 10 were Kanye West, Jay Z, Eminem, Drake, and Pitbull.
Gregory Mead of Musicmetric reminds readers that the analytics “don’t condone piracy,” but rather help artists plan around where their fans are, in order to optimize tours ” similar to what Iron Maiden has started doing. Musicmetric also measures social media success, and found Taylor Swift to be the winner, with an added 29.5 million new followers in 2013, with Katy Perry close behind at an added 29.2 million new followers.
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